Seed Guardians: These Indigenous Women Protect Future Plant Biodiversity

seeds-680x330By Christina Sarich

Plant and seed biodiversity are threatened in many parts of the world, but Aboriginal Australian women are helping to preserve one of the most valuable resources their country has — indigenous secrets to seed saving that have been practiced for over a thousand years.

Nyul Nyul, Karajarri, and Bardi Jawi Oorany women ranger groups are being taught how to preserve some of the most precious plants in the Australian landscape, which might otherwise be lost due to weather changes that cause drought and fire, pests, and the infiltration of biotech seed.

Many rare plants in the Australian Outback have been used for centuries for medicine, food, and even as implements to carry water or defend tribal people. Other traditional plants have spiritual purposes in ceremonies and are used for the cultivation of higher knowledge. These indigenous women have been entrusted to regenerate both cultural and agricultural knowledge that is being lost, but much more would go with it, were these specialized skills not saved.

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Indigenous peoples, local communities, and peasant farmers practice and retain traditional knowledge, which ‘outsiders,’ such as companies that grow terminator seeds, do not possess.

The hope is that long-term skills will be relearned and can then be passed on to newer generations.

Just one plant, for example, the monsoon vine thicket, can protect the landscape from the spreading of forest fires; but without seed saving and cultivation, the plant could go extinct.

Furthermore, each tribal area calls plants by different names, so learning their scientific genus, will help the women to disseminate their knowledge more easily. Debbie Sibosado, a ranger who will help teach others, says, “It’s really important so we learn to know what to do in the Kartiya [White fella] way, learn the common names, scientific names, so that when we’re speaking to people we all know what we’re talking about.”

With each aboriginal woman who reclaims her cultural heritage, a number of plants will be saved, protecting the biodiversity of the region, and possibly the herbs and plants that offer a window into an alternate reality.

Saving biodiversity has never been more important. The misuse of land and our resources has caused an extinction event in both plants and animals around the world. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Researchers estimate we are losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

The Aboriginal cultural knowledge, passed on by a few brave women, will be part of the solution for the devastation to our precious ecological web.

This article (Seed Guardians: These Indigenous Women Protect Future Plant Biodiversity) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Christina Sarich and If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to [email protected]. Image credit: Flickr/CIAT

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